Amid global trade strains, Nor­way aims to ad­dress con­cerns over WTO

Kuwait Times - - Business -

OSLO: Nor­way is lead­ing in­for­mal talks to tackle is­sues “par­a­lyz­ing” the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion, its for­eign min­is­ter said, out­lin­ing an at­tempt to de­fend the rules­based trad­ing sys­tem against a ris­ing threat from pro­tec­tion­ism. Non-EU Nor­way, a coun­try of 5.3 mil­lion whose ex­port-ori­ented econ­omy has ben­e­fited from an open world econ­omy for decades, sees the un­der­min­ing of the world lib­eral or­der as one of the most press­ing chal­lenges fac­ing it to­day.

World trade pol­icy is in tur­moil af­ter US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s im­po­si­tion of tar­iffs on im­ports of steel and alu­minum last month, trig­ger­ing tit-for-tat re­ac­tions from China and the EU. Trump has ac­cused the WTO of be­ing bi­ased against the world’s largest econ­omy.

Nor­way’s Ine Erik­sen So­ereide told Reuters in an in­ter­view she had been lead­ing in­for­mal diplo­matic talks among mem­ber coun­tries, in­clud­ing the United States, to try to ad­dress con­cerns with the WTO, cre­ated in 1995 as a de­fence against trade wars and pro­tec­tion­ism.

“I think it is about time that we start de­fend the idea be­hind a rules-based sys­tem, not only the rules in them­selves,” she said in her first ex­tended in­ter­view with for­eign me­dia since tak­ing of­fice in Oc­to­ber. “What we do is to find new ways into some of the dis­cus­sions that have been, in a way, par­a­lyz­ing the WTO for a long time,” she said. “It is pos­si­ble to move things along if we ap­proach this maybe dif­fer­ently than what has been done over the past years.”

In May So­ereide was plan­ning a min­is­ters’ work­ing din­ner on the mar­gins of the OECD sum­mit in Paris, fol­low­ing dis­cus­sions she held dur­ing the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum in Davos in Jan­uary and on the mar­gins of the WTO sum­mit in Buenos Aires in De­cem­ber. “When we put all the speak­ing points aside and we started to dis­cuss pol­i­tics, it seemed to be a more con­struc­tive ap­proach,” she said.

“When we dis­cuss the WTO, we have been very fo­cused on the tech­ni­cal sides of it, which in a way is un­der­stand­able, be­cause it is a rules-based sys­tem: we dis­cuss rules.

“But we haven’t been very good at dis­cussing why we have those rules and why they serve us.”

Wealth fund

Nor­way is not ex­empt from the tar­iffs Wash­ing­ton im­posed on im­ports on steel and alu­minum on na­tional se­cu­rity grounds. So­ereide ear­lier this month talked to US Trade Sec­re­tary Wil­bur Ross to ad­dress her con­cerns. While Nor­way’s ex­ports of the ma­te­ri­als to the United States are lim­ited-alu­minum pro­ducer Norsk Hy­dro has said the tar­iffs would have a “very lim­ited ef­fect” on the com­pany-So­ereide was more con­cerned about the EU im­pos­ing its own tar­iffs.

“That is where the bulk of our ex­port value goes,” she said, adding she was also con­cerned about bi­lat­eral so­lu­tions, such as a free trade deal con­cluded in March be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Seoul, which she said un­der­mined WTO rules.

“My con­cern is that we will see more of these bi­lat­eral is­sues and the sum of them will prob­a­bly un­der­mine the rules-based sys­tem,” she said. So­ereide was also con­cerned about the neg­a­tive ef­fects the mar­ket tur­moil could have on the value of the coun­try’s $1 tril­lion sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, which is in­vested in stocks, bonds and prop­erty world­wide.

“We have seen a sharper and broader de­crease of stock ex­changes through­out the world and they come more rapidly and deeper than what we have seen so far. And of course that could have a di­rect im­pact on, for in­stance, our sovereign wealth fund,” she said. —Reuters

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